The Denim Underground

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I have just come back from dyeing indigo in the mountains of Fujino for my 5th or sixth consecutive year. It always feels great going out there and immersing myself in nature for a few days. Osaka for all of its culture is starved of nature and the outdoors. It also gives me some time to think about things and of course have incredible discussion with Bryan-san. If you didn’t know this is the year of the monkey which happens to be my year in the Chinese zodiac. The conversations this year weren’t so much on what has happened but where we are heading.

For the past few months I have been contemplating all sorts of random ideas and the thought of denim and fashion is never out of mind. The Weather Underground was a political group that took extreme actions but had fairly simple ideals. These kinds of extreme actions and simple ideas are quite apart of society at this very minute. So, that is where I developed this idea called “The Denim Underground”. Maybe it is a sort of anti-fashion anti-heritage idea, but maybe it really isn’t anti anything. I kind of like fashion in the regard it operates as the artistic expression of clothing, and what can be achieved psychologically by meditation-styling. Pairing your mood with your clothes for me at least, helps for functioning on a daily basis. Eventually someday I will iron this out and create some sort of manifesto or something…

Anyways… Damage and wear, and paint and patches. This is my jam. I love… no, I adore workwear. The function is obvious and specific. Workwear is also like this fantastic base for simple clothing. Pockets in meaningful and useful places, reinforcement points, durable fabrics. It is like the everyday persons uniform. Narita-san reworked these Kapital multi pocket pants for me. White pants with white patches and paint, for me this is bliss. It is so simple but at the same time looks fantastic. They’re not exactly dirty but they’re not exactly clean either. White is such an odd color to deal with… it’s this modern/heritage “summer” color that really looks better totally fucked up and dirty.

So this kind of balance between fashion (damage, distressing, whatever-you-want-to-call-it) and simple everyday workwear is the aim of The Denim Underground. Wash and wear. Patch and darn -and re-dye…

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Re-dyeing is the ultimate fun part. Once you wear the hell out of your clothes, repair them, the opportunity of re-dyeing presents itself. You can dye with this curious red stuff called madder, this comes from the roots of an insignificant evergreen. Green, the green leaves of the indigo plant Persicaria tinctoriaAs the leaves of the indigo plant dry the release the most heavenly of fragrances and the gradually change from green to a very unusual dark blue. Recently I have started experimenting with over-dyeing some antique french linen night gowns and random garments. They come out looking fantastic after a few dips in indigo. The color is consistent and the texture is really lovely. Madder and indigo; the two most important dyes in terms of everyday clothing from ancient times to  now. Think of red and blue bandannas. In many ethnic and folk communities all-over the world you can find these two dyes and colors blended together in any number of techniques.

From my own research into the history of bandannas, the importance of madder dye is noted again and again. From India to Scotland, the color was the base for most of the textiles. Especially hard wearing ones such as rugs and wraps. It wasn’t until the invention of fastcolor (synthetic dyes) did people stop re-dyeing their clothing.

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So here is a pic of the second year of doing Oak Street Bookmakers indigo rough-out trench boots. I learned an impressive amount last year dyeing them. These are them after they have been dyed, and rinsed. They are still wet and look much darker than usual. This project has been incredibly interesting working on. The variations in the hides, brings out the individual uniqueness in each pair. Sometimes the pairs don’t even come out matched completely, which I think makes these boots very personal and very interesting. Definitely something I would include to be apart of the philosophy of The Denim Underground.

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But before I nod off, I want to explain this amazing piece of clothing. It comes from Albania, it is from the 1800’s its made from yaks wool and there are apparently only two of these in existence currently. This is one of them. The other is in a museum somewhere. It is a piece of folk clothing made in one small village somewhere in Albania. It really blows my mind that there is still stuff like this out there. Sitting in some cedar chest… You can see it is hand-spun and hand-woven which equates to an extraordinary amount of time. Not only in actually making it, but learning the skills to make it. It is simply pure function, every part has been designed around functionality and durability. Also the silhouette and structure is similar to Japanese fishermans work jackets with the shorter sleeves, mid-length and massive weight. Very interesting…

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The Infallible Blanket Lining

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This year has been a remarkable year for the humble blanket lining. That warmth providing pal that lines the inside of your favorite denim jackets and coveralls. The colors and textures vary from brand to brand, but they all have amazing texture and usually look just as good as the denim shell.

The blanket liner is what I call “American Boro”. A lot of vintage jackets that have liners, usually end up getting repaired countless times and the liners end up in shreds. Those red, grey, blue, and yellow stripes are unmistakably American vintage.

These lining leftovers could easily be used to patch socks, jeans, jackets, even wool blankets. The threads could even be unwoven and used for darning.

Kapital has incorporated the lining into several items this year. The first is this Kountry patchwork shirt.

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Mixing with indigo, the depth of color and texture is a perfect over-shirt for autumn and winter.

My personal favorite is this fleecy beach tool jacket. It is super warm and cozy. The fabric is a clever idea of making the blanket lining into warmer fabric by utilizing this knit fabric that looks like a blanket liner. The blue, red, and grey combined create a very rugged look, but softened by the knit beach cloth.

I especially like how it looks with a sukiyaki denim shirt as an underlay to keep the denim jacket in context. The pockets are an added bonus. Plenty of places to quickly stow small carry items or even a paperback.

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Of the 3 other items using this fabric this season I preferred this jacket. The sleeves aren’t too wide, and the length and width of the body are perfect. The rounded Browns Beach inspired pockets are cute.

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Narita-san and I have been busy this year collecting amongst other things lined denim chore jackets and turning them into half & 1/2 jackets. DSCF3648

Available on the Etsy site they are simple and honest vintage items that we have creatively modified. Please note the variation of denim and blanket, and left and right and back and front halves. We have jokingly called these “Hobo Camo”.

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Kapital | Santo Domingo Jacket

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DSCF3546 Santo Domingo is one of the largest villages for the Pueblo people in New Mexico. They are known for their intricate shell jewelry. During the 1930’s to the 1950’s this village produced these interesting souvenir necklaces. During this era it appears that the artisans didn’t have money to purchase traditional materials to make jewelry. In order to make a living they collected and recycled materials to make these “Depression” necklaces. They are made from crushed up bits of turquoise, car battery casings, vinyl records, red plastic (toothbrushes, spoons), bone, and other materials. They look incredible and the resourcefulness of the crafts people and their skills definitely show through these pieces, considering the materials they were working with.

DSCF3533 Kapital’s design team was inspired by this clever idea, and as always created something truly impressive. The Santo Domingo jacket is the what they came up with. The jacket, and the coverall have a similar central theme. Starting with the chest area, which is inspired by the designs found on Navajo and other southwestern tribes. The “star” (it looks like a star to me) continues on the elbows, and similarly onto the shoulders. The blending of the standard denim jacket and the hunting jacket is apparent in the pocket design and button details. The chest pocket is large enough to accommodate a newspaper plus most every day carry items. Combining function and simplicity together. The complex nature of the pattern though, means this jacket is technically quite tough to sew. Also note the hand-set rivets. The jacket denim is sanforized so there is little shrinkage after washing. The coverall is a light oz. denim that comes one-wash. What I think is most impressive with this jacket is how Kapital can wield a simple denim fabric to make such an impressive design. Not only to make an interesting look, but also utilize the denim fabric’s strengths. Similar to how the Pueblo people utilized the materials they had at hand to make simple and beautiful jewelry. DSCF3548

Ooe Yofukuten | Mitsuru Collaboration Double-Wear Overalls

Double Wear Overalls Tag

 

OYFTN X MTSR DBLWR OVRAL 2Mitsuru Vintage store is a little place mostly unknown outside of Nagoya and Japanese vintage maniacs. They don’t have a website and they probably won’t sell you these if you don’t live in Japan. Sorry to disappoint…

Ooe-san masterminded the design of these overalls, and let me get it right to the point -they’re nothing short of amazing.

However it is important to point how the vast details, and construction methods presented here that culminate into an actual high quality garment. Products labeled as “high quality” often times are just made in small batches or contain expensive materials (labeled: selvedge, quality, hand-made, etc.). These overalls are for the most part single-needle stitched, with no overlock stitching or filigree. Modeled after pants from the early 1900’s, there are no belt loops, or rivets. The design is entirely original with details borrowed from some of the best work-wear construction methods. This type of quality takes time, especially in design, sewing, and material choice. The minimal, unobtrusive labeling seals the deal.

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These pants are really simple as the stitching blends perfectly with the fabric. The subtle construction adds function and doesn’t add bulk. The fabric is the perfect weight for summer, even in Japan. They are made from dead-stock linen and cotton blend canvas. It is light and comfortable, with just the right about of weight. The little cotton husk-flecks in the yarn give it a nice ecru tinge. Also this non-selvedge fabric is a good example of why selvedge doesn’t always mean “good-quality”.

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Starting with the complex pockets that are also a part of the double-knee construction. There are no side seams as the legs are made from one piece of material and flat felled on the inseam. The continuous fly is a great feature and also adds to the quality of the construction. All the pockets are double-stitched beautifully and the subtle black hardware (steel) doesn’t add any distraction. The reinforced quadruple stitched crotch is the final detail that really finishes it all up. These pants are well thought-out, hopefully we will see a denim version and maybe future variations of this pattern.

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Inside-out Blanket Jacket

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I have had this Lee jacket sitting around. The denim shell had a few bleach marks but in overall perfect condition. The blanket lining as well was in tip-top shape. Talking with Narita-san about blanket lined jackets we got to the topic of inside-out. Most of the time the jackets have back-side stitched pockets, and or bag pockets. These don’t work. The pockets can’t be relocated to the lining. However these old Lee jackets, and a few chore coats could be flipped. Inside Out Blanket Jacket 1

 

This is the first one I have completed. It was smooth sailing for most of it since the liner was in such great condition. The tough part is sewing the collar on, and reversing the zipper. These Lee jackets all came with sewn on buttons so it made the job much easier. The collar will definitely need a little coercion to stay in place. Once the jacket is turned inside-out the shape is a bit more chunky. There are a few hand sewn details I had to do since my sewing machine wouldn’t cooperate 100% of the time. I think it adds a bit more homemade feel to it. The stitching wasn’t the prettiest work I’ve done but it is all solidly pieced together.

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Now the jacket proudly sports its beautiful blanket lining on the outside instead of being wasted hidden and tucked away as a liner. The jacket is currently available on my Etsy page. We are working on a few more of these in the coming months so keep an eye out!

Recent Repairs

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There is something crafty about repairing old clothes. There are some frequent spots that have damage, such as the collar of a jacket or the knee on a pair of jeans. Others are entirely unique to an individuals’ life. It is kinda like reading a journal entry with the people’s names redacted.

The tricky part is figuring out how to best repair an entire garment repair by repair. Mentally there has to be a game plan, a theme. There may be a point on a piece of clothing that helps determine a starting point, but usually it’s just experimenting with a stitched together narrative. Piece by piece, repair by repair the theme begins to take shape.

Eventually you find a place to end. With this post I wanted to share where I ended. Some of these repairs are small and simple, others were time-consuming. This is a short journey of hobos, mechanics, and nomad bikers.

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There are also these Kapital century denim repairs. Since the vertical sashiko threads stand out, the repair stitching looked good horizontal, and blended. The contrasting colors mix well, indigo and grey; grey, brown, and indigo. It was important to keep the texture consistent, to keep a rough and tough looking fabric.

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Recent Repairs Century Denim Sumi and Kakishibu patch

Papa Nui | Convoy Cap

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Ahoy! Papa Nui is a surfer, a vintage military maniac, and a knowledgable source; located in Gold Coast, Australia. In other words, he’s one of my favorite guys around. He writes a wonderful blog that really gives a proper depth to each of his products and interests. The Papa recently sent me one of his new Convoy Caps. The above letter is a perfect example of how he sets the mood to tell a story, and introduce a product.

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I asked the Papa to introduce himself and the convoy cap to readers:

“Papa Nui is not your regular 782*, it celebrates the uniqueness of the individual , it’s a brand, a persona, a state of mind.
In approaching the design of a watch cap the Papa wanted something very different from what was commercially available, something that still paid omage to sailors and seaman but something that had more soul and originality. He chose to focus on the heroic merchant crews that sailed in vast convoys of Liberty ships and thus the Convoy Cap concept was born.
The Papa was drawn to the hand knitted caps that were made by the Mothers, Wives and Sisters of the Home Front under the Knit for Victory program which was sponsored and driven by the American Red Cross.
Researching archival files and discovering the original Red Cross patterns, the Papa then connected with Fay O’Keefe. Fay is an elderly grandmother who as a young teenager in 1942 knit her bit for the war effort, defeating the Axis with two needles and ball of wool. In her 80’s today she is still Knitting for Victory supplying Papa Nui with handmade Australian Merino Wool Convoy Caps designed for the long watch.
Each cap is recreated using original WWII patterns and a circular needle technique that provides a no seam construction. This project is about as authentic as you can get as Papa Nui’s Convoy Caps are made with the same amount of love and hope that went into each Red Cross parcel sent to boys overseas more that 70 years ago.
The caps are then finished with original WWII Red Cross label tags and a special bonus period ‘pocket tinny’ folded over the brim and a handmade swing tag.

(* 782 was the US Marine Corp supply form designation number for receipt of standard  issue equipment. Gear was generically referred to as 782.) Papa Nui is never your average 782!”

 

For something as simple as a knit cap, the details are pretty amazing. The propeller knit pattern on the top adds strength while allowing the cap to fit comfortably. The soft Australian Merino wool is light and warm. Since he makes things in limited quantities, it is best to grab one quick before they’re all gone. I am sure there will be more on Papa Nui in the future here so please keep an eye out for more of his dispatches.

-Over and out.

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BTWXTBA | Hikeshibanten Beach Vest

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We have been hard at work thinking up new ideas. We have changed direction slightly, and Narita-san had a great idea of making beach vests out of various fabrics.

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This first one we have come up with is made from a hikeshibanten or “firefighter jacket”. These are worn by volunteer firefighters as a durable work over-jacket. They are usually reinforced with sashiko to give them durability. They are usually marked with some town naming or some sort of slogan. The one we used for the vest has a huge kanji on the back. With the kamon “family crest” this fabric has some interesting details.

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The construction is a pattern cut from a jacket that Narita-san turned into a prototype beach vest. The trim is made from strips of dead stock indigo cotton fabric sewn together. The trim along with the base fabric will age and fade as it is washed and worn. This beach vest has 4 pockets like the original, however the pockets are big enough for a phone or any daily carry items. The sashiko fabric is lightweight and tough.

Expect to see more versions of these. This one is available on my Etsy store.

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Brown Tabby Works – Boilerman Overalls

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This project; the first and last of its kind. This was a project undertaken by Narita-san and myself. The idea was to reconstruct a pair of overalls that were basically unwearable. Rather than just turn the remains into patches or thread, we took it upon ourselves to give this pair a second life.

The denim was part of a collection 2 years in the making. A precarious ordeal; fishing old denim rags out of attics of abandoned houses in North Carolina. This rescued denim made its way to our shores.  None of this denim was wasted in the least during the reconstruction of these overalls. Every scrap and tatter has found its way into some repair or another. All the denim was generously gifted to us for the purpose of this project.

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Piece by piece, and stitch by stitch; a total of 96 sewing hours; 2 months of concept and execution. The basic idea here is a generational heirloom repair. The stitching colours, and denim scraps create a sense of time flowing from one repair to another. Very little machine stitching was done, as most of the fabric was so old and thin from sitting in storage for years that it was too delicate. It needed a gentle hand and stitching that would shrink and stretch with more ease.

The tradition of generation after generation of railroad workers from the 1920’s  passing down knowledge through the ages. Little by little adding more and more repair. The really remarkable thing is though that one person did all the stitching time on this, and put in an unbelievable amount of effort and passion. I revere Narita-san for his perseverance and tenacity.

The patchwork layout and reconstruction was more like a game of Tetris than anything else. Making sure the gradation of denim had continuity, and the wear and fade of each part matched closely to the original structure. What you have here is a sophisticated repair showing much passion and skill; a masterpiece.

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BTWXTBA | Cattle Hustler Jacket

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Repair is all about what is at hand and utilizing as best you can. In this case there was a starting point. This old Lee Storm Rider Coat had a few circle patches already. We added many more to create a kind of traveller repair. Please take note of the subtle bandana repairs; we imagined a “cattle hustler” would always carry a bandana. Collecting denim scraps along life on the road.

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The coat has a nice blonde denim colour, so we wanted to create a type of tiled fade with the patches. Each of the patches are sewn under the fleece liner, so the lining is stitch free. Cattle Hustler Jacket 3

The different tone of denim patches has an aged repair feel to it. After a wash or two it will look even better!

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BTWXTBA | October Wools and Checks

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This is the third set of items that Narita-san and I have finished. The temperature has finally started to fall and it is time we brought out the wools and flannels.

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This cardigan is a slightly altered version of the Doryman sweater. The repair spots are slightly different. Note the button-hole stitching and pocket repairs. BTWXTBA October 3

On the rear side we changed out the hickory stripe elbow pads for sakiori ones. The grey and indigo colours mix in the ecru knit really nicely. The striped pattern breaks up the background Aran patterning nicely.BTWXTBA October 1
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These items will be available in my Etsy store.
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This old Big Mac flannel shirt has all the colors of fall with the addition of some charming denim details.BTWXTBA October 6

I wanted to make the shirt more useful as an outer garment. The small coin pocket from a pair of painter pants can now function as a train ticket pocket. The large lower pocket will hold a wallet and some other small items.
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There are a lot of tiny darned repairs that add a subtle texture.

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The last items are these two Pendleton wool shirts. The leather patches contrast the subtle colours of each different check. Reminiscent of hunting jackets, the rugged homemade style is purposely simple. These two shirts have darker wool checks will be perfect for mid-fall.

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The Doryman Sweater

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I have gotten a lot of positive feed back about this sweater from readers and so I thought it best to feature it, to properly introduce it. It is for sale and if you have any questions about it please feel free to shoot me a mail.

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This Aran knit sweater was a blank canvas. The high quality wool and timeless design served as a foundation to build from. Narita-san kept with the fisherman theme, through the hickory stripe denim and dark navy stitching. This sweater reminds me of the dorymen in Winslow Homer paintings. The trusty fisherman’s sweater taking the brunt of the elements, and the wear and tear of hauling pots or hooks. The workers of old reused what they already had and modified as needed. Brown Tabby Works X The Bandanna Almanac The Dory Man Sweater 2

On the back, the hand stitched elbow patches add more character, the hickory stripe denim meshes well with the knit. The blue yarn in the darning and the denim scraps used for the pocket and elbow add rugged accents to it.

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Carefully choosing the hickory stripe denim and chest pocket to keep the old ragged appearance; Narita-san chose this dirt stained pocket. Not only to add more function to the garment but also to break up the tones a bit. Brown Tabby Works X The Bandanna Almanac The Dory Man Sweater 4

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Brown Tabby Works X The Bandanna Almanac

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I have been gathering worn out, and faded items over the past few years. Narita-san and I have teamed up to bring these items back to life with a more shibui feel to them. Through detailed repairs we bring out the faded beauty of each item, their individual stories become apparent by keeping the stains and scars. We also add some more function to them by stitching pockets and altering the length of some items. All items and future items are/will be available on my new Etsy site. Kishoten…, means: introduction, development, turn… and the conclusion is up to each customer. From the Japanese 起承転結.

The first item we have completed is this noragi. I wanted to keep the original repairs and fabric on this piece, so we shortened the length and added pockets to the font side. The addition of a blanket pin acts as a closure, to keep the rustic theme.

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The second item is this Red Cross Army vest. The worsted wool in Army green has a mother-made feel to it. Probably because these were hand-knit by housewives and volunteers during the two world wars. This one had several holes in it. So we used some old sock yarn and hand-darned each hold. This adds a little colorful contrast to the otherwise mute khaki green.

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The third is my personal favorite. I found a Harley Davidson dude’s Lee Storm Rider. There was a lot of wear and damage to the entire piece that made it very unique. We cut out the back panel and put in a repurposed Chimayo fabric from a Kapital vest. The holes we are all patched with indigo thread. The collar features a nice contrast green corduroy patch, and the blanket lining inside was patched with fabric from a Warner Brothers Costume Department tunic.

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